Proyectos Monclova presents Nina Beier at Art 41 Basel – Art Statements

Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City / Mexico

June 8, 2010

Nina Beier

Art 41 Basel – Art Statements

Hall 1.0, stand S9

Experiencing the art of Nina Beier is like walking into what you took to be a puddle only to discover yourself rapidly sinking in quicksand. To characterize it as “deceptively simple” is not only a cliché, but also a dramatic understatement. Indeed such an exceptionally spare formal vocabulary might initially lead you to believe that you’re dealing with some pretty standard, neo-conceptual stuff, replete with correspondingly codified stakes and modes of interpretation, but the more your mind moves around in it, the more mired in pathos and paradox (the pathos of paradox?) it becomes. Haunted by instability, a singular form of deferral, bracketing, and self-effacement (in every sense of the term), Beier’s practice is engaged in a complex negotiation of the expressive taboo and of loss– and all of this in no particular order.

Trauerspiel, Repertoire, Morphological Mimicry and Mympathetic Magic, and Text, the artist’s project for Art Basel Statements, can be seen as a compendium of all of these concerns. This multipart project consists of four distinct, but interrelated parts. In one corner there is an amorphous, hand-made sculpture presented against a curtained backdrop. Despite its apparent originality, the sculpture is actually a performed copy of an initial, first version fashioned by Beier. It was then spirited away, never, in fact, to be exhibited, and orally transmitted (described) to an actor, who, based on the description, produced a kind of earnest, if unskilled exhibition copy (if I say ‘unskilled’, I mean traditionally, or technically. It cannot be denied that other skills will be brought into play). It is important to note that this copy is provisional; when the exhibition is over, it shall be destroyed, and should the project ever be re-exhibited, another exhibition copy will be re-fashioned and eventually disposed of according to the same principles. Meanwhile, in the other corner, an animation of two amorphous clay figures can be seen interacting with one another on a monitor. The animation is accompanied by an actor, who mediates the figures by collaging out loud from memory various pieces he has performed, as if the figures, stand-ins themselves for whatever may be foisted upon them, were also ersatz. Finally, there is the existence of three texts, of which this text is one, which are presented along with the pieces, and which mediate the Statement like foot notes. So far, so good. But the moment the mind (or at least my mind) seeks to unpack and absorb the overall project, the parts start to tug at each other like Chinese hand cuffs, steeply dragging the whole affair into a Koan-like aporia– which, it should be noted, is not aporia for the sake of aporia, but aporia as generated by the negotiation of the expressive taboo and the loss it prescribes. Therefore, if any kind of purchase is to be had on the over entire project (and practice), it would be better to consider the parts individually, and then maybe as a whole.

One particularly salient aspect about the first part, Trauerspiel– the hidden sculpture and its provisional, orally-transmitted copy– is the “hot potato” factor. While a kind of creative “outsourcing” takes place in many an artist’s practice, it generally does so for want of skill or technical know-how. Not so here. She is not necessarily hiring a sculptor to sculpt a proficient work of figuration in her steed (even if she has done something similar with Marie Lund, such as in their piece The Remains (The Making Of) (2009), which has a sculptor take a block of chalk stone and incrementally chisel a subjective maquette of whatever exhibition it finds itself in), because whatever her hired sculptor comes up with will not necessarily be an improvement on her original. In fact, it will probably be a pretty faithful copy, despite its oral transmission, in that it will most likely be equally unskilled (Beier not being a classically trained sculptor). Interestingly, by passing off the hot potato of expressivity to a hired, surrogate self, Beier deftly circumvents the expressive taboo, reflecting to what extent raw, unschooled expression is both unpardonable on its own and yet justifiable or rendered tolerable by discourse. Were she to show the original in all its expressive glory, unbracketed by withdrawal and a first version/exhibition copy relationship, she would probably be dismissed as a naïve amateur, or paradoxically, a charlatan, not “a real artist.” However, it is precisely by not being a real artist– at least not necessarily on the stage she has created (hence the curtained backdrop, which incidentally being the same color as the sculpture, allows it to potentially camouflage and withdraw into its background, mimicking the self-effacement enacted by the artist) that Beier is able to maintain her title, her aura, as such. What is more, her act of withdrawal in turn performs a quasi shamanistic Beuysian function, in that not only does it sanction raw, unschooled expression or creativity, but it also turns a non-artist into an artist– less, it must be admitted, by virtue of any utopian ideology than merely by default, but nevertheless. And yet my last claim is not entirely true. For the copy will be destroyed. The copy is but a stand-in, only temporary, and so, naturally, is the artistic status or the specious agency it grants the actor. Thus what originally might have seemed like an act of generosity becomes quite cruel. However, it is anything but senseless; it serves a specific purpose of exposing the instability that governs both the piece in particular and Beier’s practice in general.

If not actively withdrawing, Beier’s essentially fragile work is often literally or theoretically on the brink of dissolution. Perhaps the most extreme example of theoretical dissolution is the series The Extreme and Mean Ratio of (2009). Predicated upon an effacement or elision, these are sculptures of appropriated bronze busts whose heads have been removed and tossed into the ocean. All that remains is the neck and the small, marble plinths upon which they originally came. However, in the highly unlikely and thoroughly novelistic event that the head ever washes up to shore, the owner of the sculpture can reunite the two, thereby effectively dissolving Beier’s sculpture as it was originally dismembered (conceived). So does a kind of deliberate elision potentially bear within it a loss, a loss contingent on that of something being found, and consequently suspend the object in a state of neither/nor instability. Beier’s Non-Finito series (2009-) takes the issue of instability a few steps further by yoking it directly to the artist’s will, as opposed to the whims of the sea. These pieces are comprised of blocks of wood upon which the artist has started to carve, but has intentionally left unfinished. Should Beier ever decide to modify or “complete” the piece at any point in her life, she can (or she has at least contractually inscribed this proviso into the work), and thus render her career as unstable, or fluid, as the deceptively solid objects themselves. Meanwhile, the artist’s Framing the Title of the Work (2009-) series provisionally cannibalizes other aspects of the artist’s practice. The “Framings” consist of framed, photographed reproductions of the other works. However each time a “Framing” is shown, the artist replaces the original reproduction with the photographic documentation as carried out by the exhibition photographer (who is then credited in the visually diminishing, but collaboratively growing afterlife of the piece). This process naturally shrink the image, transforming it into a mise-en-abyme within the original frame, such that it seems to be withdrawing itself and will systematically exhibit or mise-en-abyme itself, so to speak, out of existence. It’s as if, akin to Trauerspiel, the pieces in the series “Framing the Title of the Work”, which are provisional copies, were justified by the existence of the originals, elsewhere, which, it turns out, are often no less provisional than the copies themselves. If Trauerspiel can be seen as a baroque exercise in hot potato-ing the expressive taboo between its wayward original and all its copies (present and future combined), it also shares with these series, on a more discreet level, an obedient and calculated lack of commitment (to anything other than its own instability) as dictated by the expressive taboo. Yet paradoxically it is this lack of commitment that both allows the work to take place and finally guarantees its dispersal and loss. Indeed, when all is said and done, there is almost the sense that Beier has set into motion a logic whose innermost wish is to see itself completely undone.

The other main aspect of this project, Repertoire, would seem to combat a kind of loss, but this is misleading. Evocative of an earlier work entitled The Complete Works (2009), in which Beier invites a retired modern dancer to re-dance, in chronological order, everything she remembers dancing, Repertoire quite literally plays out the question of instability, complementing the specious investiture of creative agency that takes place in Trauerspiel with an investiture of its own. And although that investiture might seem to initially preserve against loss– the loss of lines– it actually consolidates that loss by presenting those same lines butchered, out of context, collaged together in a “creative” haphazard fashion, in which they likely become unrecognizable, and even take on a hysterical, elegiac air. Thus Repertoire‘s instability issues from the fact that it is always changing– indeed, if there is anything stable about this work it is that it is thoroughly unstable– and the fact that those changes are contingent upon the memory and professional history of the actor. Even the repetition of the animation is modified by the ever changing repertoire that accompanies it, a factor which emphasizes the provisional nature of the animation itself, as if it were merely a question of props, vague, mnemonic prompts, or stand-ins, making it such that, despite appearances, nothing here is stable. What is more, if on the one hand Repertoire can seem like an impersonal, autobiography of a given actor, capsuling an entire past into a non-sensical skit, on the other hand, it can be read as rehearsal for “the real thing”, which, as in Trauerspiel, has been shuffled off stage (like a bad actor?), and bracketed, or indefinitely deferred.

A final, parting paradox (but certainly not the final one): although haunted by instability, Beier’s art continually seeks to remind us how mediated art is, not just in terms of how it is presented, its context, etc., but on a more fundamental level, which is to say that it is less the offspring of a pure, creative impulse than the product of rules, implicit taboos, and prohibitions. (If the self is lost in her work, it is not through any kind of ecstatic and unbridled expression, but rather through a mastery so consummate that it is effaced in the process.) This text then, and others like it, could likewise be seen as a form of mediation, a way to read the work, or even a set of rules. Yet as we all know, rules are made to be broken, and Beier not only has a knack, but I would even go so far as to say talent for breaking them.

–Chris Sharp

Image above:
Still from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)